Tampa Bay Buccaneers director of college scouting Dennis Hickey gave a pre-draft press conference on Tuesday. Hickey discussed draft strategy and the long process leading up to draft day.
Is your draft board done or is it a work in progress? "As you know it's a nine or 10 month process for our scouts. We've been building towards these draft meetings. The coaches have evaluated these players and scouts have evaluated these players and we've lined them up and we've assigned them grades and at this point we're lining them up within the grades. You know stacking them as some might say, and just seeing where our coaches are at where we're at in looking at these players."
How does the staff go about predicting how things will go in the first round? "We try to get some what of a feel, obviously it's a little easier to do when you're picking fourth as apposed to 20. You generate a certain pool of players. Obviously it's bigger the further you're away from the first pick. We have a pool we anticipate being there. Of course we're prepared, each player has been evaluated and treated the same. From one to 350 we're prepared for all the players but there is a certain group that we think will be there. When we pick, in that range." Is your philosophy best available player or do you target a player at a certain position? "We go with the best available player for the Buccaneers. Obviously we like our team, it's a good thing we've had three days of [organized team activities] and get a look at all the new additions to the roster we have. Our pro department, Bruce [Allen], Jon [Gruden], they've all brought in several people, free agents that are really going to help our team. So its good to get an idea of what we have in these new players so that's helped in this process, but we go with the best available player for the Buccaneers at this pick." What do you guys try to learn from the pre-draft visits made by prospects? "Pre-draft visits can be for a couple of reasons. One may be medical, maybe our doctors want to see the prospect again, or maybe we want to have the rest of the organization see, during the combine there's lots of things going on, just getting another look at the guy. Sometimes it's comparing two guys maybe we have kind of the same. Let's just see how they fit within our organization and with everyone here. So those are the primary reasons."
What do you think of this time of year with teams sending out smoke signals? "You know we don't get into that much and I know there's a lot of posturing. Especially at the top of the draft, we're just focused on evaluating the players correctly. That's our focus and securing our evaluations, getting our guys right that we have targeted or that we have at that pick." Does the draft normally go the way you expect? "We try to eliminate as much of the surprise as possible within our control. As I said before evaluating the players correctly and that's what we've been doing this whole past year. Coaches started getting involved in the process in late January. Spent the last two weeks in meetings talking about players hashing through players because there is some disagreements, it's a subjective business, so just trying to line those guys up and how we see them as an organization. These last two weeks, there's always some surprises maybe a guy you thought would go later and went earlier those type of things. But for the most part we wanted to be prepared for ourselves for whenever we pick."
How does this draft compare to past years? "I think it's comparable each year it's a whole new animal it's a there's different strengths at different positions but really it's not the best way to judge when you're in the moment but when you look back on it in three years. That's the best time to really judge a draft." Do you have targets in the draft? "There's a certain pool of players, you know. We're not in other draft rooms so we don't know the discussions that are going on there. You know in general you get a feel for the players for where they get slotted in the end. There are some unknowns there." Is it more relaxed or more pressure picking lower in the draft then the top 10? "I treat it the same regardless of where we're picking cause we feel we're going to get good players and quality players at every round. So we have the same mindset whether we're talking a fifth-round prospect a first-round prospect. They're important we want to get them right and that's our job as scouts. That we know the player backwards and forwards, we know how we feel about them, and the way they fit within our team so we treat them all as if they're important."
With the Bucs having five picks in this draft is there less margin for error? "No we want to line up a player and we have them graded exactly how we want them and then its just a matter for the best player there. Again it kind of refers back to the previous question, there's pressure with each pick, we want to get each pick exactly right doesn't mean we always will but that's my job is to get that right."
Who has the final say on draft picks in each round? "You know its been a collaborative effort. We've gotten together with all the coaches these last two weeks leading up through the draft. We get together as an organization. We hash it out there's different opinions and we come up with a final decision come draft day. We have them lined up the way we see it as an organization"
How much do intangibles play into choosing a player? "Each player we evaluate first of all on their tape, their performance, their play, their production the player, but we also evaluate each prospect on their make up, their character, how's he going to fit in our locker room. How is he going to fit as teammate with our current players, so each player is evaluated that way."
Did you have organized team activities before the draft in the past? "Yes we had one week of them prior, yes."
How would you evaluate the team's second day draft picks from previous years? "Well I think there's been some guys who performed like we expected but there's been some like in all things you don't get everyone exactly right, but what we can control is this year so we're working hard and trying to get this next pick, this first pick right, the next pick the 52nd, the 83rd whether we move up or move down we want to get that one right."
If you miss on a pick can you pinpoint what was missed on the player's evaluation? "Well professionally you're always trying to get better as far as professional development maybe it's a look back at a prospect I didn't even draft or isn't even on our team maybe successful or not successful some other place. You're always looking at that, because you don't want to stay stagnant you always want to get better. It's a subjective business, and you're always learning at least that's way I approach it."
Can you give some examples that stand out about that? "I evaluate several hundred players so there's lots of different examples, none that stand out as great examples." Does the change in draft time change things for this year? "In the past in the first round that 15 minutes you had more time to make trades or at least try to get something going. There's more of a time element now. From our prospective it doesn't change that much. We're still going to have our guys lined up and will be ready when its time."
Who's talking in the war room as the pick is drawing near? "As we get closer to the pick let's say five or ten picks away we start pulling out players that we're going to consider there and we just try to talk through them. Go over there medical, talk to the coaches and try and get a feel, but most of the works been done in that way of hashing it out when we have clear heads and there's time to go back and look at tape when there's disagreements, and that's done last week and this week, so we try an eliminate as much of that as possible. So we're prepared there."
Is it one person's pick? "What you have is each position or each scout or there's lots of different opinions, but when its all said and done its our organizational pick and everyone's on board, and we move forward and our excited about it."
Are you guys surprised by trades done by other teams? "It doesn't really effect us, we still have our pool of players and maybe there's a player we're targeting to maybe move up in the draft in any round or moving back we adjust but we're always prepared with our pool of players that we will consider there."
What's a more exciting day for you — draft day or season opener? "Season opener that's what it's all about. It's about winning games. That's the fun part. Obviously this is the role that I play within our organization but it's all about winning games here." Is there a first-round receiver in this draft? "Like I said they're graded. We line them up where we feel they belong within our grading system and each player individually."
Is there particularly deep position in this year's draft? "You'd have to say that this is an unusual year, offensive tackles is very deep, and by far that's the one that standouts in this years crop."
Do you prioritize certain positions? "No we look at our team and we like our team. We think we have a good team, we're returning lots of player from our NFC South championship team, we've added some pieces that we're excited about. We're going into it, we're looking for the best player we feel like we want to bring in more competition we want to bring in better players just to upgrade our roster."
Is cornerback a vital need? "With all the positions when you look at the future you can take any guy that can help your football team. That's how we look at it."
How do you characterize this year's group of corners? "It's a good year for corners, very solid year for them."
How difficult is it to trade down? "It takes two parties. Sometimes it's hard, really it depends what's happening with a player that is there. Sometimes you don't know what other teams are thinking about in certain players. It's always hard it's something you prepare for wherever we trade back to and have an idea in preparation for that. You've got to have a willing party."
What if a top player falls at a position the team doesn't need? "Well if he's the best player for the Bucs then absolutely we're going to take him. It all goes into it. We have certain players graded at a certain level. If he's the best player for the team at that time we're going to take him."
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